Salmonella enteritidis (SE) contamination in the laying houses, combined with “alarmingly high rodent populations,” make it likely that eggs from a Rose Acre Farms operation in north central Indiana are putting consumers at risk, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.
Rose Acre Farms Inc. is one of the largest egg producers in the U.S., with laying hens in several midwestern and southern states. It is best known in the past for challenging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U. S. Department of Agriculture powers to protect the public from contaminated shell eggs, and losing.
Three of five environmental samples collected at Rose Acre Farms’ White County Egg Farm at Monon, IN from April 19-22 and 28 tested positive for SE, according to the FDA. The egg producer was notified about the results on May 5.
“In addition, during our inspection we found that your (White County) facility had violations of the ‘Prevention of Salmonella enteritidis in Shell Eggs During Production, Storage, and Transportation’ regulation (shell egg regulation) … says a July 14 warning letter to Rose Acre that was made public Tuesday.
Rose Acre’s failure to adhere to the new shell egg regulations that went into effect one year ago means its shell eggs from White County are considered to be adulterated or impure under federal law.
Owned by the Rust family since it was founded in the 1930s, Rose Acre Farms today offers “Farm Fresh” eggs from both cage-safe hens and from birds that roam free. Its eggs were blamed for three SE outbreaks in 1990 and suspected in another.
FDA says Rose Acre is not doing an adequate job of rodent control in its Monon facility, noting that between September 2010 and April 2011, it trapped 21,000 rodents. According to Rose Acre’s own SE prevention plan, that level of rodent activity amounts to “poor control” of rodents, the agency said.
The pest-management plan calls for corrective action if rodent levels rise above certain levels. FDA said actions that should be taken include re-inspecting exterior bait stations, adding meal bait, and employing bromethalin products, and/or using tracking powders in high rodent population areas.
“Despite this uncontrollable rodent activity data, your firm’s rodent monitoring records show repeated increases in the number of rodents in most of the egg laying houses from one week to the next, even after your firm recorded having made one or more of the possible corrective actions above,” the warning letter said.
“Your firm has not fully implemented the “population reduction” that is stated in your own IPM (Integrated Pest Management Program) and has failed to achieve significant and sustained reductions in rodent populations below your own IPM threshold levels.” FDA added.
The warning letter also cited Rose Acre Farms’ failure to adhere to its own biosecurity plan, because holes and gaps were found in the layer house. Rodent nests were also found in the protective roof screening.
“Further, FDA’s finding of SE in environmental samples collected at three of your firm’s egg laying houses, coupled with the alarmingly high rodent population documented by your firm, increase the likelihood of SE-positive eggs being produced at your facility,” FDA said.
“The continued lack of rodent control throughout the egg laying houses in your firm’s Monon, IN facility greatly increases the risk of eggs becoming contaminated with SE and causing injury to consumers.”
Rose Acres Farms responded to FDA’s Form 483 inspection observations on May 16, but the agency found those reactions inadequate because they did not get to the root cause of the rodent problem.
FDA ended the warning letter by taking the usual step of demanding a meeting with the company at the agency’s district headquarters in Detroit. It wants to discuss:
- egg diversion from laying houses until compliance is achieved
- laboratory methodologies to analyze egg samples
- rodent control methods
- repairs to prevent ingress of rodents
- structural changes to remedy extensive rodent populations
Without corrective actions, the egg producer may face legal action without further notice, FDA says.
The last time Rose Acre went up against regulators, the federal food safety agencies won a 15-year battle in 2009 when a three judge Court of Appeals panel did not buy Rose Acre’s argument that steps to control Salmonella outbreaks amounted to an unconstitutional regulatory taking of property.
The appeals court overturned a trial court’s award of $5 million to Rose Acre for the costs imposed on it by the government’s attempt to control those previous outbreaks.